By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Mercy Hospital joins Wilderness Health

Health care providers to work together to improve quality, outcomes


Lois Johnson

Nine regional health care providers announced the formation of Wilderness Health at a press conference November 17. Representing those providers are, from left: Dr. David Spoelhof, medical director of Wilderness Health; Cassandra Beardsley, executive director of Wilderness Health; John Strange, president/CEO of St. Luke's; Michael Delfs, vice president/CEO or Mercy Hospital, Moose Lake; Aaron Saude, Interim CEO, Bigfork Valley Hospital, Bigfork; Teresa Deubec, Cook Hospital, Cook; Rick Breuer, CEO/administrator Community Memorial Hospital, Cloquet; Al Vogt, administrator/CEO Cook Hospital, Cook; Kimber Wraalstad, administrator, Cook County North Shore Hospital, Grand Marais; Jim Bymark, vice president of Clinical Development, Fairview Range, Hibbing; and Greg Ruberg, administrator, Lake View Hospital, Two Harbors.

Nine regional health care providers joined and formed Wilderness Health, it was announced at a press conference at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth on Monday, November 17.

"This is not a merger," said Cassandra Beardsley, the executive director of Wilderness Health at the press conference. "Each provider remains independent. The nine non-profit organizations will work toward a better health care system in the region."

The members of Wilderness Health are: Mercy Hospital, Moose Lake; Bigfork Valley Hospital, Bigfork; Community Memorial Hospital, Cloquet; Cook County Hospital, Grand Marais; Cook Hospital, Cook; Fairview Range, Hibbing; Lake View, Two Harbors; Rainy Lake Medical Center, International Falls; and St. Luke's.

John Strange, CEO of St. Luke's and chairman of the Wilderness Health Board of Directors, explained how the collaborative came about.

"Several years ago, we had a meeting about improving the care of patients," he said. "We talked about how we could work together for the future, and yet, respect the independence of each provider.

"After a lot of discussion, we organized the structure of the collaborative, hired Cassandra (Beardsley), and she helped us work together.

"We had been working together for many years on an informal basis. This is more formal; it's a natural outcome of our working relationship."

Michael Delfs, CEO of Mercy Hospital and vice-chair of Wilderness Health, spoke about the advantages of the collaborative to its members.

"When I came to Mercy Hospital four months ago, I was very, very excited about the concept," he said. "This collaborative will allow small hospitals to explore much better health care options.

"Our main concern is how to move data about patients back and forth. This will allow us to do things that smaller hospitals can't do.

"I'm not aware of this kind of partnership happening anywhere else in the nation."

Dr. David Spoelhof, Medical Director of Wilderness Health and chair of the quality committee, spoke about the issues patients often have to deal with.

"I worked in urgent care for eight years," he said. "All too often I saw patients with serious concerns stumbling their way through the system. Often, their care was more expensive than it should have been.

"This collaborative will identify people who need special help find their way through the system."

In a separate interview, Delfs explained the Affordable Care Act requires electronic records be transferred between health care providers. However, that has been difficult to achieve.

"Every provider has different systems," he explained. "If Mercy transfers a patient to Essentia Health, for example, it has a different computer system, or St. Luke's has a different system than Essentia.

"We hope to figure out how to deal with this problem with Wilderness Health. It can cost 4-7 million to move to electronic records. We all can gain by working together."

Before, a Moose Lake physician knew a Duluth specialist to send a patient to, or would call a specialist in Duluth when they transferred a patient to that specialist, said Delfs.

Delfs explained that the computer systems will not be changed when Mercy Hospital moves into the new hospital facility in December but new systems will be added to enhance efficiency of care.

"We will have a newer Omnicell electronic system for tracking drugs," he said. "The electronic system will tell us which drugs are going out and coming in to the pharmacy with a bar code system.

"Before, the nurse would have to list the different medications a patient was taking. Now, with the bar code system, the drug containers can be scanned and the information listed more quickly."

He also said computers in patient rooms will be connected to the hospital's server for faster access.

Another major benefit to be offered by the new hospital is an in-house MRI.

"We will no longer have to depend on the availability of the MRI truck," said Delfs. "The patients won't have to go out in the cold to get to the truck, and the new system will be more quiet.

"In the new hospital, the patient rooms will be on the second floor and also more quiet. The floors will be carpeted to keep down any noise. That will be good for the patient. They will get the rest that they need to heal."

The public will be able to tour the new hospital on December 20. Watch for more information about the open house.

Delfs said a grand opening celebration will be scheduled next summer, after the existing hospital has been remodeled.

For more information about Wilderness Health, go to


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